Striving for inclusive creativity

Living

EMBRACING ART Maureen O’Neill working in her studio, which she hopes to renovate to make it accessible to people with mobility issues who wish to take part in her workshops.


Greenway artist Maureen O’Neill launches a fundraising campaign to make her studio workshops accessible to all


Áine Ryan

FOR artist Maureen O’Neill embracing her practice is all about communal access to creativity with a particular focus on disability and aging.
Established in 2017, the Greenway Lane Art Studio in Newport is primarily a space for acrylic pour and resin art. She now plans to raise funds to expand the studio to develop the first acrylic-pour workshops in the country for people with disabilities.         
When talking to The Mayo News last week, she explained: “Growing our space will also increase the scope of our community programmes as well as with groups like the active retired and Western Care, who it will directly benefit.”
The Greenway Lane Art Studio is a renovated cottage which has been in Maureen’s family for generations.
“My husband and I did the original renovations ourselves. It seemed like the obvious choice for my workspace as it is close to my home. I paint mostly in oils, so it makes it easier if you have a place of your own,” O’Neill says.  
“A studio is a place where you come to do some reflection and thinking, an escape from all other distractions. It can be a profoundly creative environment, and that is why I started to think about opening it up to classes and workshops.”
She likens it to a ‘sanctuary’ where she encourages ‘creativity, community and curiosity’.      
“It is a lovely feeling to see everyone together in our space learning something new, experimenting with materials, meeting new people, and always leaving with a smile on their face.
“The studio is in a wonderful location; it is three miles past Newport town with the mountains behind and Croagh Patrick to the front, and has private access to the Great Western Greenway. There is no shortage of inspiration,” she continues.
Circuitous journey
O’Neill expands on her circuitous journey back to this old family cottage and its  transformation into an artistic oasis.
“After travelling for a period and not knowing what I wanted to do, I worked as a chef. I then met my husband Michael, who is from Glasgow, and we settled in Westport.
“After a period, I started to become ill and discovered I had epilepsy, so I was no longer allowed to continue my work as a chef. I had always loved painting and calligraphy when I was a child and happened to have family friends who introduced me to that world, and I was intrigued. I always painted regardless of what else I was doing,” she says.
After deciding to return to education, she took a portfolio preparation course in Westport CFE. However, after its completion her father became ill, so she put the pursuit of a degree on the back-burner.
“We moved to Newport to be closer to him, and it made taking care of him a little easier. After battling through Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he passed away. After some months, I enrolled in college and completed my degree in Heritage Studies. With the thoughts of painting still on my mind and the idea of connecting Mayo artists together, I founded the Greenway Artists Initiative, which was a not-for-profit group.”
It was around the time that the development of the Great Western Greenway was starting and she happened to be one of the landowners along the former old railway line to Achill.
However, the completion of a Fine Art degree was still on her mind as the couple worked on  renovating the old cottage. “So I enrolled in the part time course that was running in Castlebar at the time. I only needed to join the course halfway through since I had a lot of experience already. I completed my degree and went on to do the honours degree.”

Therapeutic dividends
Meanwhile, she also began to build up her student base,  running an after-school art club and various painting classes, including the acrylic pour and resin art.
“Because of the space being a standalone working studio, Emily from Western Care contacted me, and we organised for some of the people from the Newport group to come and take part in art classes with other participants from the community, making it something to do outside of the Newport centre itself,” O’Neill says.  
The problem was, though, access steps and space mean the studio is not suitable for people with mobility issues. That is why O’Neill has now initiated her online FundIt campaign.  
“I was disappointed that some of the guys had to miss out, and that is when I started to investigate whether there were any funding options out there to rectify the situation.”  
Maureen O’Neill looks forward to accommodating people with disabilities soon after life returns to normal. She believes passionately that her art practice provides perfect therapeutic dividends for those with a variety of disabilities and needs.   
“To accommodate this increase in demand for classes for people with disabilities, we want to expand by building a space that is completely disability friendly. As such, we want to design an art experience that does not limit participants in any way.
Acrylic pour is great for relaxation and art therapy, which makes it an ideal choice.
“We are a small studio and are fiercely committed to championing accessibility in the art community,” Michelle O’Neill says.
 
For more on the Greenway Lane Studio and Maureen’s fundraiser, visit maureenoneillartist.net, find Greenway Lane Studio on Facebook, and check out fundit.ie/project/access-at-the-greenway-lane-art-studio.